Originally posted Jan. 7, 2008
A reader responding to my August, 2007 column, "Weak in the
knees about the birds and the bees?" raises some interesting
concerns related to educating kids about sexuality:
My son is nine years old. I feel he is ready for
"the talk" because, you're right, I'd rather he hear about it from
me. Here's the kicker: I was a single mom with him
before my husband and I married, which my son doesn't know.
He has always thought of my husband as his Father. I would
like to discourage premarital sex, but is that hypocritical?
Should I divulge this information all at the same time? I
worry that he will ask about his real father, but I was seeing two
guys at the time and honestly, it could be either one.
Neither of them has any idea.
It's smart to be sensitive to the possibility that kids can be
overwhelmed by "too much information" if all of the particulars are
volunteered right off the bat. This is true no matter how
uncomplicated our family circumstances might be. I generally
recommend that after initiating "the talk," parents follow the
child's lead and answer questions as they come up. In some
cases, though, a discussion about "the birds and the bees" may
inspire questions that lack easy answers.
I remember talking to my son about sex for the first time.
"So you and Daddy …?" he began, wincing at the visual as I nodded,
wincing right along with him. But what if your kid's Daddy
didn't father him? Is your first
conversation with your child about sex the right moment to say
so? While I'm inclined to go with the old 'honesty is the
best policy' idea, consider first, perhaps with some professional
help from a counselor, what your particular child can handle and
when. Bear in mind, though, that kids typically take their
emotional cues from their parents. They're more likely to
handle news well if information is dispensed in a gentle, clear and
Be prepared for some anger, and resist the temptation to react
defensively. No matter when their parentage is revealed,
children may feel lied to, even by lies of omission. It may
take some time for them to sort it all out for themselves, so be
patient and steady while they get their heads around this
revelation. Expect things to be rocky at times and don't
hesitate to enlist the support of a family therapist.
So what if you've revealed the big news but that's just the tip
of the iceberg? If you're unsure of your child's paternity, I
urge you to consider sparing your child a case of the wonders by
determining who the biological father is (via DNA testing, etc.),
before the question even comes up. I realize that doing so
could unearth a minefield, and that involving old boyfriends in
your search for your child's biological father can be awkward
(which I wouldn't pursue if safety is a real concern). Keep
in mind, though, that children have the right to someday learn
their parentage and have access to their medical history, which may
come in handy in a medical emergency.
As for the hypocrisy conundrum, this is a quandary faced by lots
of parents, whether the issue is premarital sex, drugs or alcohol.
What do you do if you 'did the deed' but want to discourage your
own child from engaging in the same risky behavior? I don't
believe it's duplicitous to do this. Our life experiences
often lead us to reconsider our values. Our children can
benefit from our insights about potential consequences as they
wrestle with their own choices. It's okay to confess
that you wish you had made different choices. The ability to
admit vulnerability and humanness are priceless attributes in a
parent, and is a wonderful model for our children, who are so often
bombarded with messages that they must be perfect or flawless to
gain love and acceptance. Be careful when expressing regret
about premarital sex if your child is the product of a premarital
relationship, however, as this can sound like regret that he
No matter how you proceed, reassure your child that he
is loved and has always been a miracle in your life.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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